Monday, 14 December 2015

What We Expect

In a Poul Anderson story, we expect:

action;
intelligent, informed analysis of society;
scenery and sunsets.

If the story is futuristic sf, we additionally expect road vehicles that are also VTOL aircraft. Thus, in "Un-Man," Naysmith:

shoots his way past armed Security men;
explains world politics;
flies his boat "...east until it was following the mighty spine of the Rockies, an immensity of stone and forest and snow turning gold with sunset." (The Psychotechnic League, p. 75)

Analysis
I have come to understand what was meant by the "protean enemy." The UN tries to move society towards a single sane world civilization. Thus, the UN's enemies include every opponent of either unity or sanity, every kind of separatist or ideologue. These disparate groups can seem to be diverse manifestations of a single enemy and indeed they do temporarily unite under the leadership of "the gang," which explains why the title character of "The Sensitive Man" later refers to a return of "...political gangsterism." (p. 138)

After the defeat of the gang, Naysmith even more clearly delineates the enemy:

"The enemy was old and strong and crafty, it took a million forms and it could never quite be slain. For it was man himself - the madness and sorrow of the human soul, the revolt of a primitive against the unnatural state called civilization and freedom. Somebody would try again. His methods would be different, he might not have the same avowed goal, but he would be the enemy and the watchers would have to break him. And who shall watch the watchmen? (pp. 125-126)

That question is central to the Psychotechnic History, where the successive watchers are the UN, the Psychotechnic Institute and the Coordination Service.

In Anderson's Brain Wave, human intelligence is enhanced and wins its ancient battle against instinct but a disparate gang of conspirators, including one Hindu, tries to return humanity to its previous state. Fortunately, they are easily outmaneuvered. Mystics seek either regression or transcendence. Transcendent mystics should welcome the change in Brain Wave.

In James Blish's The Night Shapes, surviving dinosaurs are found in an African valley but the hero realizes:

"'...the shapes are inside us. They've always lived there. They always will.'"
-James Blish, The Night Shapes ( London, 1965), p. 125.

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